OTISFIELD — Paul Laird, a 60-year-old U.S. Army veteran from Otisfield, was presented with the Humanitarian Service Medal by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, recognizing him for the work he did cleaning up the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the United States conducted multiple nuclear weapons tests from 1948 to 1952.

Forty years ago, Paul Laird was among thousands of veterans who were stationed on the Enewetak Atoll from 1977 to 1980.

Laird was a bulldozer operator for the U.S. Army’s 84th Engineer Battalion, and since his time on the atoll, he has fought cancer three times, including a near-death experience from complications with kidney cancer seven years ago.

According to a press release by King’s office, Laird and other veterans reached out to his office and said that they scraped topsoil on the atoll “without being provided the proper safety equipment.”

The release stated that Laird and other veterans who were assigned to clean up the Enewetak Atoll “suffer from high rates of cancers due to their exposure to radiation and nuclear waste, but are currently unable to receive the same treatments and service-related presumptions that other ‘radiation-exposed veterans’ receive.”

While Laird has applied several times for veterans’ benefits to help cover the cost of his cancer treatments, he has been denied, with the Department of Veterans Affairs arguing that the veterans’ cancers are not linked to their work on the islands.

On the heels of Laird receiving the medal, King announced his support for the Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would, according to the press release, “designate veterans who participated in the nuclear cleanup of (the atoll) as ‘radiation-exposed veterans,’” making them eligible for health care and benefits through the VA.

“Your country appreciates what you did,” King said to Laird during the ceremony, which was broadcast live on Facebook. “You did serious, important work for the people on the Marshall Islands, and it’s a real honor for me to be able to present you with this long-overdue medal.”

“I’ve heard of government being slow, but 40 years is a little much,” King said.

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Paul Laird, middle, of Otisfield was presented with the Humanitarian Service Medal by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, right, and constituent service representative Sarah Graettinger in recognition of his work cleaning up fallout from nuclear weapons in 1977 at the Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.


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